The new boss of the UK’s largest teaching union is facing criticism over her controversial views on trans women.
Kiri Tunks was last week installed as President of the National Education Union (NUT Section), a role created by the partial merger of the National Union of Teachers and the Association of Teachers and Lecturers.
Ms Tunks, a long-time union activist who was previously elected as Vice President of the NUT, faced criticism upon her appointment over her record of controversial views.
In the past year, Ms Tunks has co-signed two open letters criticising the transgender movement.
One, published in the far-left Morning Star, hit out at the Labour Party over the inclusion of transgender women in a Women in Leadership programme, suggesting it should only be open to women who have been subject to “sexism and sexist messages received from birth”.
The second, published in the Guardian, responded to a scuffle between “trans critical” campaigners and trans activists at a protest last year.
Both groups of protesters accused the other of starting the violent altercation, but the letter signed by Ms Tunks pins the blame squarely on “transgender activists”.
Ms Tunks also penned a lengthy piece in the Morning Star last August criticising proposals to reform the Gender Recognition Act.
While the proposals will have little impact beyond allowing trans people to more easily change the gender on their birth certificate, Ms Tunks claimed it could put women at risk.
She wrote: “The term ‘woman’ is now being defined in several ways. For the majority of women it is still determined by biology; for many transwomen it is by a strongly held belief or ‘knowing’.
“In this context, how can the term mean the same thing to both?”
She added: “The demand for self-identity has huge implications for all of us and how we are defined.
“And, because women are an oppressed group (whose fight for equality has never been won or sustained) it is women who are most affected by the proposals.
“It is also the women who have raised concerns who have been attacked as bigots for speaking out — often by men whose rights are simply not affected in the same way.”
Ms Tunks later helped set up the group Woman’s Place UK, which campaigns against the rights of transgender women to enter women only spaces.
At a Woman’s Place UK event last year transgender women were branded “horrible, hateful, misogynistic bastards”.
At least two campaigners who have spoken at recent WPUK events have been investigated by the Labour Party over allegations of abusive and ‘transphobic’ behaviour.
Her views have led to disquiet within the union.
Several teachers waved a transgender flag during her speech at the teachers’ conference, as a silent protest against her record.
Although the NUT and ATL unions are set to merge entirely from next year under the NEU banner, a member of the ATL executive also came forward to clarify that it does not endorse Ms Tunks’ views.
NEU exec Graham Easterlow tweeted: “We need to be clear that this relates to the President of the NUT section of the NEU and not the President of ATL We stand with you.”
Ms Tunks’ views appear to put her at odds with the Union’s official policies on transgender rights.
NUT members agreed overwhelmingly at its 2017 annual conference to “supports transgender members’ right to self-identify” and to “lobby government for implementation of the actions recommended by the GRA review”.
At the time, NUT General Secretary Kevin Courtney said: “Trans teachers face significant discrimination at work and trade unions are a vital route of support.
“Many trans workers find themselves out of employment during or after transition and many employers struggle to find advice about good practice. It’s important that trade unions work with employers to raise awareness of the barriers and to educate everyone about what the law requires.
“LGB workers also experience prejudice and stereotyping at work, and the journey towards equal rights is not over.
“It’s still the case that far too many LGBT+ workers decide they can’t be out at work, and this just has to change. This shouldn’t have to be resolved by individual teachers – we need everyone in education to work together to collectively challenge sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.”
The NUT’s LGBT executive has also previously condemned the rhetoric used by “gender critical” campaigners.
It said: “We believe that trans rights are not in opposition to women’s rights. We believe that a better and more successful strategy would be to link the struggle for women’s and transgender rights so that we have a greater chance of winning more social provision for oppressed groups, rather than fight amongst each other for fewer resources.”
The group added: “We believe that the negativity surrounding the consultation is unhelpful and without substance. We don’t believe that giving the trans community the right to more easily self-identify diminishes definitions of women and men.
“We believe that everyone whether they define as a man, woman or non-binary should be able to choose to live a legally recognised authentic life.
“We believe that biological essentialism debates on pre-operative trans men and women are often emotional and prejudiced. We believe that trans women are women and trans men are men.
“Those who want to live a legally recognised authentic life should be protected; we believe that denying their existence allows people to deny them their human rights, and this we can’t abide.
“We believe that fears about cis-gender men abusing the system in order to access women only spaces, suggests that they think that cis-women can’t also be predators or abusers.
“We are concerned that attempts raise parallels between trans women and potential sex offenders are eerily like echoes from the 1970’s rhetoric of ‘gay men are all paedophiles’. We believe cis-gender women don’t get a free pass to abuse people just because they have XX chromosomes.”
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It continued: “Given that the Equality Act already allows trans men and women to informally self-identify and use their choice of toilets or changing rooms, giving trans people the legal right to self-identify will not change the demographic of people going into women’s toilets or changing rooms.
“We fully support the need to keep cis-gender men from abusing the system and keep women safe, and keep our spaces safe for everyone including trans women and trans men. Given that trans women are disproportionally victims of violence, they also need access to safe spaces.
“There are laws to protect us from those who abuse systems and spaces. If those laws prove to be ineffective they are what need to be changed, and perhaps this could form part of the consultation.”
Speaking after her appointment, Ms Tunks said: “We are now the fourth biggest union in the country and remain the largest education union in Europe. We have the potential to become a driving force for change in education and society itself.
“We must share our vision as widely as we can.
“We want a society where our children do not live in poverty or fear. We want a society where people are treated fairly and paid a decent wage. We want a society where diversity is celebrated and embraced.
“We want schools based on positive values that centre the needs of the child. We want our schools to be properly funded and our staff to be valued and paid what they are worth. We want our schools to be accountable to their communities, not to Trusts or private companies seeking to profit from education.
“We will campaign with all of those who share our values.”